TV blog: The Great British Bake Off

Benjie Goodhart / 23 August 2017

A preview of Channel 4's Great British Bake Off and an insightful Princess Diana documentary. Plus the best of the rest of this week's television.



The Great British Bake Off, Tuesday 29th August, 8pm, Channel 4

So here we are at last. If 2016 was a year marked by controversy and division, from Trump to Brexit, there was one thing upon which everyone agreed: Bakexit was a catastrophe. A relatively modest show about people baking in a tent was moving from BBC One to Channel 4, and people were behaving as if they’d been bereaved. 

Extraordinarily – and you’d never have seen this coming – the British press seemed to lose just a smidge of perspective. The producers and Paul Hollywood (who stayed with the show) were depicted as Fagin-esque avaricious monsters, while Mel and Sue, and Mary Berry, were heralded as saintly figures epitomising loyalty, decency and integrity, as opposed to TV stars who had been made a lucrative counter-offer by a BBC intent on scuppering Bake Off 2.0. Without 75% of the show’s stars, the show would be flatter than a [insert your own non-rising baked goods metaphor here].

On Monday 21st August, amidst the type of security you’d only expect to find if the Queen, the President and Madonna were touring downtown Caracas, Channel 4 allowed a few of us trusted previewers the chance to see the new show. (It must be said, we were also horribly bribed with tea in china cups, a plentiful supply of mini cakes, and the best array of finger sandwiches I have ever encountered, so it may be that everything I am about to write is utterly skewed by my truly tickled tastebuds).

The show is quite simply marvellous. It is, in essence, reassuringly unchanged, in spite of the personnel. The tent is still there – nestling happily in the picturesque grounds of that rather posh Berkshire house. The gingham tablecloth and bunting is still there. The show’s structure is the same, that atmospheric music is still there, and ol’ Blue Eyes is still doling out brickbats and handshakes.

Of course, there are differences – and I would argue that the differences are just significant enough to keep the show fresh. Prue Leith brings the experience, gravitas and style of Mary Berry, but feels slightly fresher and more modern (is that sacrilege?) Sandi Toksvig and Noel Fielding share Mel and Sue’s fondness for bad puns and innuendo, and their ability to interact warmly with the bakers, but offer something different by virtue of being different from each other. Mel and Sue were marvellous, but had become interchangeable.

The real reason the show works so well, though, is because, as ever, the producers have uncovered a truly marvellous collection of bakers. They already seem like a diverse, interesting, charismatic and sympathetic group – and sweet holy moly, can they bake. The show-stopper challenge at the end of the show, where they are required to bake a cake that doesn’t look like a cake – is simply breathtaking.

And that, in essence, is why the show will continue to work. There was much talk of Bake Off being the next Top Gear – collapsing without the old, familiar faces. But Top Gear was all about the presenters. Bake Off is about the format, and the bakers, and the look and feel of the whole thing. And this show looks, and feels, as much of a winner as it ever was. Panic over. Now let’s get back to less contentious things like Brexit and the prospect of global war.

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Diana: The Day Britain Cried, Tuesday 29th August, 8pm, ITV

Well, blow me if I haven’t gone and made an unutterable nincompoop of myself. Give me a whole week of programmes to choose from, and I go and pick two that are on the same day at the same time. In my defence, though, I couldn’t really skip Bake Off, and nor did I want to overlook the Diana anniversary. There is a BBC documentary about Diana on Sunday night at 7:30pm as well, but it ‘wasn’t ready for viewing.’ (Why would it be? After all, who could possibly have foreseen the 20th anniversary of one of the most significant global events in 20th century history, and manage to get a programme ready for viewing accordingly?) Anyway, we are lucky to live in an age where we can watch programmes on Catch-Up, or on ITV+1 or Channel 4+1 (though as Bake off is 75 minutes long, I’d advise against going with that first).

There has been no shortage of documentaries about the Princess of Wales’ death in recent weeks. It’s hardly a surprise. She was an iconic figure, perhaps the most recognised person in the world, and she was adored by millions. Her death, at the gut-wrenchingly young age of 36, and the additional tragedy of seeing two young, vulnerable boys lose their mother, left an emotional mark on this nation that time has not erased.

This programme brings back the extraordinary events in the week following Diana’s death with admirable clarity and thoroughness. While the story is familiar to most of us – particularly after all the recent programmes – the real fascination is in the small but significant details. The account from those tasked with transporting the coffin – from pallbearers to carriage drivers – is riveting: The well-intentioned throwing of flowers almost led the horses to bolt, and an unfortunately persistent wasp almost ruined everything.

The accounts from Palace officials are also particularly insightful, including a remarkable story about how the invitations were sent out. Meanwhile, the unforgettable eulogy by Diana’s brother has lost none of its power. It was an extraordinary moment – and one that is remembered with tight-lipped silence by one senior palace official.

Above all, though, what this programme brings to mind is the unprecedented and deeply uncharacteristic national outpouring of grief that greeted the news of Diana’s death. Archive from the many vigils that week, and from the day of the funeral itself, shows people literally shrieking and wailing. It’s like footage from North Korea after the death of Kim Jong Il, although in the UK people weren’t doing it so they didn’t get sent to detainment camps. They were doing it out of love. It is difficult to think of another popular figure in this or any other generation who could have inspired such affection.

Read memories of Princess Diana from her friends, staff and members of the public

The best… and the rest

Saturday 26th August

Festival Tales: Edinburgh at 70, 9pm, BBC Two: Hour-long documentary celebrating 70 years of the greatest arts festival on earth. So which titan of the arts do we have presenting, and interviewing the great and the good? Melvyn Bragg? Alan Yentob? Nope, it’s Jack Whitehall…

Supernatural Nazis, 8pm, Channel 5: “One of the great untold stories of WWII is the role the supernatural played in shaping and determining the war’s outcome.” Ummmm…

Sunday 27th August

Possibly… The Best Adverts in the World, 7pm, ITV: Brand new one-off special celebrating the best averts ever made. AKA we know everyone will be watching BBC One’s Diana doc, so we might as well stick on a cheap and lengthy list show. Sigh.

Diana: 7 Days, 7:30pm, BBC One: 31st August marks the 20th anniversary of Diana’s death. This feature-length documentary looks at the events of that week, the national reaction, and the crisis that enveloped the royal family.

Funny Women: The Mel & Sue Story, 9pm, Channel 5: Profile of the former Bake Off presenters, cheekily scheduled in the same week as the new, Mel-and-Sue-less series airs for the first time.

Strike – The Cuckoo’s Calling, 9:05pm, BBC One: New three-part series (showing on consecutive nights) following the adventures of the absurdly-named private detective Cormoran Strike, who’s investigating the supposed suicide of a supermodel. Why can’t these guys, just sometimes, be called Bernard Thwaites?

Victoria, 9:05pm, ITV: Second series of the lavish costume drama starring Jenna Coleman as Queen Victoria. Series two begins a month after the birth of the Queen’s first child, with her maj keen to return to her duties as soon as possible.

Monday 28th August

Countryfile Summer Diaries, 9:15am, BBC One: CThe team return each morning this week with the best seasonal stories, beginning with Queen Victoria’s holiday idyll on the Isle of Wight.

Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, 6:30pm, BBC One: Marching bands and whatnot. Narrated by the soothing, mellifluous tones of Bill Paterson.

In Solitary: The Anti-Social Experiment, 9pm, Channel 5: A fascinating feature-length documentary in which three normal members of the public are asked to spend five days in (comfortable) solitary confinement without any external contact. It shouldn’t be that hard… right?

The Secret Life of the Holiday Resort, 10pm, Channel 4: Pensioners Margaret and Pauline try an all-inclusive for the first time. Will they be appalled by the excess, or guzzling free Cava and swinging off the chandeliers at 4am?

Imagine… Margaret Atwood: You Have Been Warned, 10:30pm, BBC One: the magnificently spry and sharp 77-year-old writer is the fearless and outspoken author of works including The Handmaid’s Tale. Here, she tangles with cultural commentator Alan Yentob (presumably Jack Whitehall was busy…)

Tuesday 29th August

Celebrity Island with Bear Grylls, 9pm, Channel 4: A ragtag collection of celebs you haven’t heard of arrive full of excitement, sure that they will fare better than those who have gone before them. Inevitably, three days in, they will all be hallucinating with thirst.

Manchester: 100 Days After the Attack, 9pm, ITV: Powerful and moving look at some of those at the heart of events during the terror attack in Manchester, and how they have coped with life ever since.

Horizon: What Makes a Psychopath, 9pm, BBC Two: In-depth exploration of the psychopathic mind, featuring a study of the late Ian Brady, and candid interviews with other psychopathic prison inmates. Not exactly knockabout fun.

Inside Balmoral 1/3, 9pm, Channel 5: An intimate look at life inside the Queen’s favourite home, a 50,000 acre Highland Estate, and the role it has played in our recent history.

Wednesday 30th August

Love Your Home and Garden, 8pm, ITV: New three part series in which everyone’s chum, cuddly Alan Titchmarsh, creates not only unique and special outdoor spaces for deserving recipients, but indoor spaces too. Heart-warming stuff.

Mountain: Life at the Extreme – The Rockies, 9pm, BBC Two: Visually stunning, informative and fascinating three-part series looking at the wildlife and people inhabiting three of the world’s most iconic mountain ranges. Tonight, the Rockies. Nobody does this sort of telly like the BBC.

Bring Me Back to Life, 10pm, Channel 4: Remarkable and uplifting Cutting Edge documentary following 22-year-old dad Taylor Britton as he fights for his life in intensive care.

Thursday 31st August

Educating Greater Manchester 1/8, 9pm, Channel 4: The charming series looking at every aspect of school life returns, this time from a school in Salford, following delightful series in Essex, Yorkshire and London. 

The Great British Bake Off: An Extra Slice 1/10, 10pm, Channel 4: Jo Brand and a panel of celeb Bake Off fans examine what’s been going on in the tent, and talk to the unfortunate baker who’s left the show in week one. 

Football Focus: Transfer Deadline Day Special, 10:45pm, BBC One: Did your club sign Lionel Messi for the price of a small middle-European principality? Or have you signed Tranmere’s reserve left back on a free? Find out here.

Friday 1st September

World Cup 2018 Qualifier Live, 7:15pm, ITV: England travel to Malta in what, on paper, should be an utter mismatch. I mean, we couldn’t possibly lose to an island nation with a minute population, right? Oh shut up, Iceland, no-one’s listening to you!

Cruising with Jane McDonald 1/4, 9pm, Channel 5: Ahh, poor Ms McDonald has the arduous job of exploring some of the world’s most luxurious cruises for our delectation, tonight exploring the Baltic in fabulous style. Life at the coalface, eh?

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